Climbing the ladder

Longtime employees realize dreams of

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Jamie McQuade signed the papers to become the new owner of Winona's Restaurant and Bakery on Aug. 6, almost a decade after she walked into the same restaurant as a 19-year-old and filled out an application for a job.

She was new to town back then, looking for work after the mountain closed.

"I didn't even know Winona's existed," she said. "I lived on the mountain and I did mountain things."

She worked at the restaurant for seven years as a manager and caterer, before leaving to open her own restaurant in San Francisco.

She kept in touch with Scott and Kristy Fox while she was gone. Six months ago, the Foxes started talking seriously about selling the business to concentrate on their family and their other restaurant, Freshies.

McQuade recruited her aunt as a partner and moved back to Steamboat in June.

McQuade is one of several long-time restaurant employees in Steamboat who made the jump to ownership, entering the business world with a pre-existing relationship with their employees and on-the-job experience that their counterparts will take years to establish.

Charlie Noble took over Mahogany Ridge Brewery and Grill in May after years as an employee. Like McQuade, he has worked in the restaurant business since he was a teenager. When he moved to Steamboat in 1991, he took a job at El Rancho -- a business that no longer exists, but is connected to Mahogany Ridge through a circuitous route of owners.

By the time Steamboat Brewery and Tavern was built next door to El Rancho, Noble was just learning to brew beer at home.

Noble trained for a couple months under the owner of Heavenly Daze, a brewery that was located in Ski Time Square but no longer exists.

The owner of the Steamboat Brewery, Dave Brereton, knew Noble from the regular visits he made to Brereton's home brewery.

"I was passionate about brewing," Noble said. Brereton hired him as a brewer in 1994. The Steamboat Brewery was a centerpiece of downtown from 1993 until it closed in October 2002. It reopened in March 2003 as Mahogany Ridge under new owners and Noble was hired as the brewmaster.

Noble took ownership of Mahogany Ridge on May 20,. The owners offered him the opportunity to buy the business last fall, Noble said.

"I remember thinking, 'This is what I always wanted, but now what do I do?'" Noble said

Noble was happy for McQuade when he heard that she had purchased Winona's, but he also is aware of the struggles she is about to encounter.

As a long-time employee, Noble noticed that he had a hard time letting other people do the work.

"After all those years, you have a way that you like things to be done and it's hard not to do everything," he said. That would be his first piece of advice to McQuade:

"Don't try to do everything," he said.

When McQuade returned to Winona's in June, she started working in the kitchen, because that was the one place in the restaurant she hadn't worked. Some of the old wait staff came back to help her in the transition, which she said happened smoothly.

"I did this for so long," she said. "It's scary how quickly it came back.

"For years I came in at 4 a.m. and left at midnight, working as a caterer. It's so satisfying to be an owner, because I've put so much into this business."

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